Friday, March 24, 2017

Me and my folks - A review of Robert Putnam's "Our Kids"

The Millennial generation reflects a new reality 
by Tarah Hodgkinson

There has been much commentary lately about the Millennial generation. They don’t work hard enough, they expect everything to be handed to them and they are apathetic.

However, a recent book by Robert Putnam (author of Bowling Alone) claims that much of the millennial struggle is not a product of a poor work ethic or inaction. Rather, the structure of North American society has changed to make it so that working class kids are struggling far more to achieve any success compared to counterparts in their parents’ generation.

This blog reviewed the Millennial generation five years ago in Peter Pan Kids and this latest offering provides another look.

Putnam begins his analysis with an examination of why kids from his hometown of Port Clinton, who grew up in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, were generally successful despite class, racial and gender barriers while kids in Port Clinton today appear more financially segregated than ever before. He says there are several factors such as the American Dream, families, parenting, schooling and the community.

Putnam brings to life the changing demographics of American society by combining the stories of privileged and underprivileged kids and their families with current research. He demonstrates that the Baby Boomer generation was successful in part because the era of their youth was relatively favourable towards upward mobility.

BOOMER VERSUS MILLENNIAL ADVANTAGES

Contrary to the notion that many Boomers are self-made success stories, Putnam argues that youth in this generation benefited from excellent funding for school programming, neighbourhoods diversified in both race and class, and strong social capital networks that created a sense of responsibility for each other’s kids.

By contrast, he claims that today there is a concentration of disadvantage, particularly for poor kids, caused by removing funding from childhood educational programs, financial (not just racial) segregation, and the loss of community and community responsibility for youth.

Fewer paths available for Millennials compared to Boomers
This is not just a sad story about the most disadvantaged youth in America today. Rather the opportunity gap imposes on all of us real costs or what economists term opportunity costs. Putnam demonstrates that the annual costs of child poverty in the US economy is about 500 billion dollars per year (4% of the GDP).

This costs a substantial amount of money to not address this opportunity gap and it impacts politics. Kids from richer families are more confident that they can influence government; poor kids, with few incentives and few success stories, are less likely to even try. This means that the needs of marginalized groups are not being addressed.

WHAT CAN WE DO? 

The response will not be quick or easy. It took a long time for the structures that supported Boomers to fall apart and it will take even longer to repair. But one stepping stone we need is supportive institutions, both public and private, to better address the economic disparities our poor youth are facing.

That’s where SafeGrowth emerges. Community development, local rebuilding and cohesive, networked neighbourhoods can assist in addressing these disparities at the neighbourhood level.

Millennials, sometimes called the Peter Pan generation,
may offer more, not less, for future SafeGrowth programming

The SafeGrowth method helps to recreate social cohesion that can address many of the missing public resources. It brings neighbours together to demand more for their community, to work to create a better community, and to help introduce at-risk youth to people who can help guide them and give them opportunities they may not otherwise obtain.

SafeGrowth neighbourhoods create an action plan. That plan contains a neighbourhood vision that embraces all levels of diversity, breaks down class segregation, and gives all kids a chance at contributing and participating in community life.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Spaces between buildings - Brisbane laneways

Unattractive laneways attract undesirable behaviors

by Mateja Mihinjac

Towards the end of the past Century, a gruesome downtown rape shocked Brisbane, Australia. The incident occurred at 9 am in a laneway surrounded by the pedestrian corridor of the busiest spot in Brisbane, the outdoor Queen Street Mall.

This horrific incident went unnoticed by the city workers rushing to their offices. The victim, a young woman, remained helpless in the shadows of the bland gray facades of the surrounding buildings.

FAST FORWARD 20 YEARS

Today numerous Brisbane laneways have undergone a remarkable visual transformation aiming to imitate similar successes in Melbourne and Sydney.

Burnett Lane is Brisbane’s oldest laneway with a dark history of a prison exercise yard during the early penal colony days.

Burnett Lane buildings feature its long history

It was the first to undergo rejuvenation. The 600-foot laneway now boasts creative lighting and artwork that characterize its cultural and historical identity. It has a few small restaurants, cafes and bars, the largest vinyl record store in the Southern Hemisphere and a wine bar with late evening hours.

Winn Lane and Baker Lane, situated in the middle of the night entertainment district, also offer a mix of diverse opportunities in one place. They host day and night cafes, eateries, service shops and small retail shops that attract Brisbane’s artisan community.


Eagle Lane cafes
Once a forgotten place surrounded by tall buildings, Eagle Lane now offers a bar and a café, street parties, artistic installations and live music with pop-up gigs in the evening hours. It has become a popular post-work venue for city workers in the financial district.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WON’T COME?

More than a dozen other laneways across Brisbane’s CBD have sprouted since the City’s Vibrant Laneways program was introduced in 2006, and more are pending. However, according to critics the program leaves much to be desired since laneway culture in the city has yet to truly flourish.

They suggest that the City’s domination of the Vibrant Laneways program resulted in mechanically built laneways that failed to evolve over time. Instead, as predicted by SafeGrowth theory, they recommend the laneways should grow organically as a product of the creative and entrepreneurial activities of locals whereby the city assumes a cooperative rather than the leading role.

Relaxed dining in Winn Lane 
Confirming this idea is that fact the laneways attracting most people in Brisbane are those able to capitalize on their creative and economic potential to develop imaginative places. Elements that promote their vitality include permeability, accessibility, the absence of vehicular traffic and a positive image.

Truly vibrant laneways convince people to stop and linger, which in turn activates the area and reduces the potential for undesirable activities like serious crime.

Combining cafes, dining, retail and services in Winn Lane

SAFE LANEWAYS

For laneways to be safe, they need to move away from what Woodhouse describes as “forgotten space within cities, trapped in the dark and quiet spaces” offering nothing more than pedestrian thoroughfare and service delivery access.

Instead, as Carmichael claims, with collaboration between business planners, interest groups, and local governments, these precious micro-spaces can facilitate social interaction, promote safety and evolve into assets and anchors for community life in the 21st Century.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Homage to Jan - a village for the 21st Century

Common outdoor gathering area in Danish cohousing 
by Gregory Saville

Fifteen years ago, I visited Skraplanet in Denmark, one of the world’s first cohousing communities and spent an afternoon with architect and founder, Jan Gudmand-Hoyer. In 1964 Hoyer gathered with friends to figure out how to purchase homes in the pricey Copenhagen real estate market.

Home purchasing then – as today - offered few real choices of importance. Hoyer and friends discovered house architecture was boring and designed by someone else. Land developers already answered (or ignored) the critical questions of neighborhood living before residents even showed up:

  • What is the neighborhood like? Is it exciting? Is it safe?
  • How are the homes situated in relation to gardens, play areas, gathering spaces? 
  • What is there to do for kids and for adults? 
  • Where can I walk and socialize? Is there something interesting to see?
  • Who are my neighbors?  How do we work together?


Children's play area designed by residents at Skraplanet cohousing
Hoyer described this in his 1968 article The missing link between utopia and the dated one-family house. The result was cohousing – a new type of village, a style of intentional community in which residents form their own development company, hire their own builders, and create their own neighborhood. When cohousing migrated worldwide in the 1980s, it offered a unique form of equity housing and village living - usually within or nearby existing cities.

Private residence at Skraplanet with balcony and private gardens
Ultimately, cohousing became a safer and more sustainable housing option. It has appeared here numerous times in An alternative future and Avoiding a wire-esque future.

Posing with Jan before our tour at Skraplanet

TOURING WITH THE MASTER

Jan Gudmand-Hoyer taught me the nuances of cohousing planning. He proudly described some of the clever design techniques unique to this housing form. His community, Skraplanet, used modernism, an architectural style popular in the 1960s. At the time of my visit, the community was 20 years old and had found a green niche in the surrounding forest.

Jan died yesterday at 81. He and his cohousing pioneers offered the world a new kind of village for the 21st Century. Thank you, Jan. May we live up to your dream!

Modernist design with plenty of window views and greenery